HOW BATS ARE MADEOur bat factory enters another season with innovative new designs, which through changing technology and new shape development, is essential to the pursuit of personal excellence.
The hallmark of our handcrafted bats is the ideal combination of PROFILE, PICKUP and THE INDIVIDUAL PRESSING of each bat to perfection, giving players the edge in personal performance.
The Bat Factory uses Super Best Top grade cultivated English Willow (Salix Alba Variety Coerulea) sourced from the wetland areas throughout Essex. There are two main reasons for using this type of willow in the manufacture of Cricket bats: Firstly the wood, when dried, is very light so that the finished product will only weigh around 2lb 9ozs. Secondly, it is an extremely fibrous wood which makes it very tough and consequently, when pressed, can with stand and drive satisfactorly the impact of cricket balls traveling at speeds approaching 100mph.
We guarantee the performance and quality of our entire range of bats. Our expert bat maker, Dustin Gaskell, is involved in hand picking each cleft of willow from our own specialist willow supplier, to designing, grading and shaping the cleft into the ultimate cricket bat. The Willow grading process involves evaluation of each cleft of willow and grading it according to the strength, quality and durability of the timber.
'Super Best' willow is the finest quality willow available. 'Super Best' clefts are the lowest section of the trunk of the tree. This wood is mainly sapwood, which carries moisture from the roots and is the most resilient part of the tree. This provides the bats with the greatest strength and quality performance out of all grades of willow. Our latest release from our factory is the innovative Gabba Glide Black label, displaying impressive new styling and performance.
"In Short: It does not get any better than this".
Selecting the Timber
All our timber is sourced either from local trees or from willow specialists. Choosing mature trees (between 15-30 yrs old), cutting them into rounds, then splitting out the clefts is an occasional luxury, as the majority of our time is dedicated to the actual making processes. The bulk of our willow therefore comes from willow specialists but each cleft is still regraded in our factory.
The cleft has already been split from the round (section of the trunk), rough sawn, the ends waxed and then air or kiln dried to reduce the moisture content. The waxing is essential as it prevents quick moisture loss from the end grain which could cause cracks or drying 'cones'. Any clefts suffering from these cones are filtered out of production, or, if finished, sold only as sub-standards directly from the workshop once the blade has been repaired.
Once in the workshop, the cleft undergoes various machining processes to be cut into the basic blade shape. The cleft is resized with our 4 bed lathe to achieve the best part of the timber as the blade. Even at the machining stage, the craftsman's expertise is essential as the blade must be continually evaluated in order to maximise the natural potential of the willow; the most crucial judgments of course are establishing the best end for the handle and leaving the most suitable wood for the driving area.
Pressing the Blade
Once the blade has been correctly graded and machined, the next stage is the pressing. The willow fibres have to be compressed in order to strengthen the timber sufficiently to withstand the impact of a cricket ball. But as pressing is a delicate balance between hardening the willow for strength and leaving the blade soft enough to play well (over-pressing can deaden the blade), Gabba Sporting Products presses each blade individually.
Fitting the Handle
The handle, a laminated construction of cane and rubber strips, is fitted through the precise splicing of the handle into the blade. A splicing saw is used to cut the deep V into both blade and handle, using special jigs, so that the handle and blade fit together perfectly.
The two pieces are then fitted together by hand using pva wood glue then clamped and left to dry overnight. Traditionally handles are set slightly forward of the blade, although the Pod benefits from a unique new setting which opposes the bow to create greater control when the bat is in use.
The blade is shaped by 'pulling off' the willow with the draw knife. The bat makers will leave maximum wood in the driving area whilst working the blade to establish the balance that is associated with the finest handmade bats. The coarse cuts of the draw knife are smoothed using wooden planes and the shoulders and handle are seamlessly blended with the spoke-shave. The toe is very carefully shaped to a distinctive angle for strength and protection.
As with all the other stages of production, the hand shaping is absolutely unique to each bat. During the shaping, the bat will be removed from the vice and tested for balance and form by the bat maker, using his knowledge of the game as a point of reference for balance and pick-up.
Once shaped, the bat will be both course and fine sanded. This is achieved through various drum sanding and belt sanding machines, but as with the shaping, the sanding is dependant upon the eye and skill of the craftsman. The characteristic finish of a Glide bat can be attributed to very fastidious sanding, which has always been a point of pride.
Once the bat has been shaped and sanded, the last element in blending handle and blade together seamlessly is to rasp the handle. This again is a very skilled process and is essential in obtaining the right feel to the bat.
The handle naturally becomes subtly oval and the shape is set before binding and gripping. If the handle is not shaped correctly at this stage then no amount of binding or gripping will make the bat feel good.
The handle is bound with Irish linen thread which is applied on a custom made binding lathe. The bat is mounted in the lathe which is controlled using a foot treadle; the handle is brushed with glue and whipped with the twine which provides strength at the top of the splice and throughout the length of the handle.
The handles are then left to dry before the next stage which is labelling the bats.
The bound bats are then brought through into the finishing room to be very carefully labelled with our Australian made labels. As with most of the components in the bats, the labels are again a specialist product manufactured for us in Australia but which we design ourselves right up to cutting out. The labels truly express us as a brand and our in house design enables us to develop ideas and artwork throughout the season. Labelling is time consuming and must be precise to emphasise the profile and finish of each bat.
Finally, English made latex rubber grips are fitted to the handle. These are made for us in a specialist factory which produces traditional rubber grips - these look and feel totally different from imported grips, with a depth of colour which is essential to the final finish. All our bats then undergo a final quality inspection and ready for the customer to collect.
With each bat is carried the hope that the time and effort we expend will be rewarded by the owner's care and attention, and great success at the wicket.
Cricket bat willow (salix alba, var. cærulea) is a cultivated timber which predominantly grows in large plantations in wetland areas throughout Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Each tree is individually planted by hand and during its natural life-span, the willow will be tended by the grower to ensure that the tree will be suitable for bat making.
For Gabba Sporting Products grading of timber is an ongoing process throughout bat manufacture. The majority of our wood is purchased in cleft form so has already been graded by the willow suppliers. However, we tend to re-grade substantially and sadly find that very few grade ones make the Glide series grade nowadays. Traditionally willow was graded according to the predominance of sapwood, i.e. grade one: sapwood right across the blade with clean straight grain, grade two: some heartwood and twig marks, grade three: more prominent marks and more heartwood. The heartwood is the red coloured timber from the centre of the tree which is drier as the sap has moved out into the sapwood (whiter wood) towards the bark. Sapwood is more desirable as retention of the tree's natural moisture (sap) contributes to durability; logically drier wood is more brittle and hence more vulnerable to damage. For each willow that is felled, two new trees are planted. In this way the industry, countryside and the actual species are protected. Cricket bat making is a traditional craft based on conservation: like many rural crafts it is naturally self perpetuating.
With correct maintenance, oiling and protective facing, bats of any grade should offer durability. But these are basic facts about willow which should enable players to make an informed judgment when selecting a bat and of course looking after it properly in use. Heartwood on the inside edge for example should be given extra protection with facing and glass tape. Some players prefer heartwood and deliberately choose grade threes for this reason, but to do so involves accepting these properties and looking after the bat accordingly. Wood must be used in cricket bat making to comply with the laws of the game, but it does not lose its fundamental characteristics when made into a cricket bat.